Yesterday, while the BBC continued to insist that its myriad on- screen promotions, or trails, for BBC Wildlife Magazine, BBC Gardener's World Magazine or any of a clutch of other BBC products were not really advertising at all, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission ruled that they were and that they were not fair.
The commission said the BBC's liberal use of free on-screen plugs to promote its own magazines must be cut back. While it agreed that viewers may want further information on BBC programmes as supplied in its magazines, the report said that 'the BBC's practices go beyond what could be justified on those grounds'.
The commission recommends that the BBC should be prohibited from using moving trails and from mentioning its magazines during programmes, and that its use of still trails should be restricted.
Following publication of the report Neil Hamilton, the minister for corporate affairs, said he would ask the Director General of Fair Trading to meet the BBC to secure such a reduction in on-air promotion. Mr Hamilton also wants trails to be restricted to name, price, publisher and availability of magazines and to include a statement on the availability of competing magazines.
Rival publishers said the decision would allow them to compete. Linda Lancaster-Gaye, publishing director of IPC Magazines' TV Times and What's On TV, said: 'This goes a long way to creating a level playing field in the magazine sector. It is a strong and positive recognition that BBC trails are an unfair practice and a distortion of competition.'
BBC Magazines, a division of BBC Enterprises, recently announced that it was the third largest consumer magazine publisher in the country behind IPC and EMAP. But rival publishers say that titles such as BBC Gardener's World (circulation: 318,437), The Clothes Show Magazine (191,954) and BBC Wildlife Magazine (142,058) have achieved such impressive circulations only because of the free air time. The BBC admits none of them has been advertised on ITV. Rival titles would need advertisements on ITV to reach similar sales.
IPC Magazines has estimated that the value to BBC Enterprises of the airtime may be as much as pounds 20m annually and that competition is choked - the failure of Gruner and Jahr's Let's Cook was blamed on the success of the BBC Good Food Guide.
Tony Elliott, publisher of Time Out, which now carries television listings, said: 'That promotion they have is priceless because there is no other advertising on the BBC and viewers subconsciously think such titles are part and parcel of the BBC. This decision will take away an unqualified head start they have had.'
ITV companies attacked, page 18Reuse content